This is a fan fiction story based on characters from
the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark.
No infringement on copyrights is intended.


The Man Who Needed Hanging
by Debbie Vega

Newt Call galloped over the badlands on his mare the Hell Bitch, the sharp, early spring air making him almost breathless from the effort. He’d ridden on ahead of Mosby’s posse, always one to ride alone. Besides, he was a better tracker than any one of Mosby’s bunch, and for once he was as interested as the rest of them in finding the murdering bastard who’d tried to hold up the bank the previous afternoon, for more reasons than a chance to pick up a rich bounty.

He pulled on the Hell Bitch’s reins and examined the ground in the early morning light. In spite of the snap in the air that day, the thaw was well under way and the softening ground was easy to track. He was on to something, he could see, and followed the signs that he’d picked up the robber’s trail.

The man he was looking for was named Monahan. He’d never heard of the son of a bitch before, so he imagined he was an outlaw from a different part of the country. All he knew of him was that he’d tried to hold up the bank, and in his escape out of town started shooting wildly. One bullet hit a seven year old girl, killing her almost instantly. Somehow, he’d managed to escape and head out for the hills before folks could absorb the enormity of what had happened. The town, naturally, was shocked and outraged by this senseless killing, and hardly a citizen of Curtis Wells didn’t want this man’s blood.

Mosby offered a bounty of $100, but even before he’d made this announcement, most men in town had paused only long enough to arm themselves before heading out after Monahan. They would get the man soon, Call knew, and another reason he wanted to get him first was to avoid the spectacle of a lynching party. As much as he believed the man needed hanging, something in Call recoiled at the thought of allowing a lynching to take place.

He soon realized the trail was leading him to an abandoned homestead on the edge of the badlands. As he approached the tumbling down cabin, he saw smoke coming out of the chimney, indicating occupants. As he and the Hell Bitch got closer, he also saw a loaded wagon and two horses. Most curious of all was a freshly dug hole, almost like a grave, though shallower, a few feet from the house.

He rode up and dismounted his horse. He took his sawed-off with him and approached the house. The door stood slightly open and he tried to peer in without touching it.

What he found knocked him for a loop. On a cot was a body covered in a white sheet. A woman with her back to him knelt by the bed, bent over the sheet and sewing it into what appeared to be a shroud. It was the woman’s manner that shocked him. The calm, even movements of her hand as she drew the needle and thread through the material made it look as though she could have been working on a quilt, rather than occupied with a much more gruesome task.

His shadow must have fallen across the cot, because the woman stopped sewing and started, then slowly turned to face him and rise from the floor. It was then that he realized he’d done her an injustice, for her face was a mask of shock and grief, the light from outside catching the glint of tears that had been falling down her cheeks.

In spite of her disheveled appearance, he could see she was quite young, though worn from sadness and disappointment. Her long, dark hair was tied back from her face with a bit of ribbon. Her eyes, probably a brilliant blue when they were not dull and red-rimmed from weeping, grew wide at the sight of him.

She gasped and looked to the side, calling out, "Robbie, come here!"

A little boy, about eight years old, suddenly darted from the other side of the cabin and ran to his mother. Holding the child tightly to her side, she began to drag him to the farthest corner of the cabin away from Call.

Call found his hand reaching up to his head and removing his hat. He could scarce recall the last time he’d done so in the presence of a lady. But then he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been in the presence of a real lady.

She was dressed like any farmer’s wife in a drab calico that was dirt-stained, most likely from digging the little grave out front. In spite of this, her bearing made him think there was something refined about her, almost regal. It was plain she was scared to death of him, and he realized that from her point of view he must have been a terrifying sight, with his gunbelt and sawed-off in his hand. Caution didn’t allow him to put down the sawed-off altogether. He knew some of these homesteaders’ wives had plenty of grit and she could have a small gun hidden in her apron or some other pocket. He let his hands fall to his side and relax.

"Didn’t mean to frighten you ma’am. I mean you no harm."

She held the boy closer to her. "Is this your place? We only stopped when my little girl, when she got sick –" She stopped and began to weep.

Call looked at the little shrouded figure on the cot. "When did this happen?"

She made a great effort to bring herself under control. She swallowed, then said, "Early this morning."

"Where’s your husband?"

She brought the corner of her apron to her face and wiped the fresh tears with it. "He left the night before last to find a doctor."

"Night before last? Why, there’s a doc less than half a day’s ride away, in Curtis Wells—" His voice trailed off, because her reaction was mighty strange. A look of resignation came over her face, as if it weren’t odd at all that a father would take two days to find a doctor for his sick child when one could be found in less than one.

It startled him so that he couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he put down the sawed-off, turned and walked out of the cabin. He took off his jacket, then found the shovel she’d used to dig the hole and set out to make it a proper size for its purpose. It didn’t take long. When he finished, he went back into the cabin.

He found the woman had cleaned both herself and the boy and exchanged her calico for black. She knelt close to the body, looking at it, mourning quietly for the passing of her child. She said not a word when he picked the body up and carried it out to its grave. He heard them following behind him.

He could have been carrying a pillow made of feathers. Gently, he place the child in the hole. When he was done, he turned to the woman.

"Guess you want to say something before I—"

She shook her head and lead her son to the edge of the grave. She picked up a clump of dirt and put it in her son’s hand, then took one for herself. Showing the boy what to do, they tossed the dirt on top of the dead child.

They were both quiet for a minute, and then she said to her boy, "We’ll wait until your father returns, and then say a few words over Sissy’s grave." The boy simply nodded in answer.

They stood by and watched Call as he filled in the grave, holding each other and sobbing now and then.

When he was done, she said, "I never caught your name Mr.—"

He wiped his hands on his shirt. "Never threw it, ma’am. Name’s Newt Call."

"I’m pleased to meet you Mr. Call, and most grateful for your help. I’m certain my husband will also want to thank you personally. My name is Eliza Monahan."

That jolted him again, though he made a great effort to conceal it. He asked, "So you expect him back, then?"

She stiffened. "Of course he’ll be back. He must have been detained for a very good reason."

Call wondered what the best course of action would be—to stay and wait for Monahan to meet up with his family, or go on searching for him. Surely, Monahan couldn’t be so stupid as to waste time trying to reunite with them—but then, the man had not shown himself to be particularly bright so far.

The woman decided for him. "Please, Mr. Call, eat with us. The least I can do is give you breakfast."

He nodded and followed them into the cabin.

She turned out to be an excellent cook. After washing the dirt off his hands, he found himself eating the lightest biscuits he’d ever tasted and drinking coffee that was hot and strong. There were no chairs or table in the cabin so they sat on the floor as they ate. She touched nothing herself except for sipping some black coffee. As he watched her, he could not fathom how a woman of such obvious breeding had ended up in these circumstances. He found himself asking her questions, a foreign endeavor for him these days.

"You from back east somewheres?"

She managed to smile a little, and when she did he could see how pretty she could be. The thought made his heart constrict ever so slightly, remembering how another’s smile used to have an effect on him.

"It’s that obvious, isn’t it? Yes. My husband and I are originally from Boston. We used to have a farm in Nebraska until about a year ago."

"What happened?"

She said nothing for a moment and then shrugged. "Des got some idea he wanted to go to California."

He wondered why they’d made so little progress in their journey. She stood up and began clearing away dishes. She suddenly froze.

"I see your father coming, Robbie."

Call stood up quickly and looked over her head out the window. Sure enough, Monahan was riding towards the cabin. She put the dishes down on the floor and wiped her hands on the side of her dress, then began clenching and unclenching them, perhaps needing to compose herself before speaking to her man to break the news about their child. He didn’t stop her from going out the door to meet him. The boy followed her.

Call decided the best thing to do was to stay in the cabin while they spoke. He picked up the sawed-off and waited for his chance.

Monahan pulled on the reins of his horse and dismounted. A handsome but weak-faced man, he ran to his wife and grabbed her by the arms. As he spoke, Call detected the slightest brogue in his voice.

"Libby, I can’t explain why, but we’ve got to split up. You—"

"Des."

"—now don’t argue with me. Just get the children ready and head out for Miles City as quick as you can. I’m going on ahead alone. We’ll meet up later."

In a calm, even voice, she said, "Where have you been all this time, Des?"

"Look, we don’t have time for this, you can fuss at me later."

"Why didn’t you get the doctor, like I asked?"

He made an impatient gesture. "You always fret too much over the children. One little sneeze and you---"

He stopped suddenly. Something about his wife’s manner must have spooked him, or perhaps he had caught sight of the freshly dug grave. Whatever the reason, he suddenly let go of her.

His wife gave him the news in a flat, emotionless voice. "Sissy’s dead. She died earlier this morning."

The news hit the man hard. Monahan collapsed to his knees as if someone had bashed the back of his legs with a two-by-four. He began to moan.

"Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus. Please forgive me."

He threw his arms around his wife and buried his face in her dress, sobbing. At first she didn’t move, just stood there stiffly, but after a moment or two she pulled his arms away and knelt on the ground next to him. Then, in an almost maternal gesture, she gathered him to her bosom and began to stroke his hair, murmuring words of comfort.

Call got so wrapped up in watching this pathetic spectacle that he almost didn’t realize a golden opportunity had presented itself. The boy, who seemed accustomed to these sorts of scenes between his parents, had wandered to the other side of the yard, his body turned away from them, his head bent and looking at the ground.

Quieter than a cat, Call crept up on the couple and cocked the shotgun into firing position. The noise got their attention and they released each other, turning to look at him.

The woman gasped. "Mr. Call, what—"

"Call? Oh, Jesus." The man started to get up as if he meant to run for it, but Call stopped him with a sharp command.

"Hold it right there, Monahan! Don’t make me kill you in front of your wife and boy."

Monahan obeyed and collapsed again, yammering at his wife once more to forgive him.

The man was beginning to make him feel violently sick. If his family hadn’t been there watching, Call probably would have given into the impulse to bash his head in with the butt of the sawed-off to shut him up. Instead, he said to the boy, "Get me some rope."

The boy, who had yet to say a word, shook his head vigorously.

"Mrs. Monahan, I’d advise you to tell your boy to do everything I say. Do as I say, no one gets hurt."

"Robbie, do what Mr. Call says." For once, her calm demeanor cracked and he could detect a note of distress in her voice.

The boy ran to the wagon and got a length of rope. Call reached down and pulled Monahan to his feet. He practically had to drag him along the ground, as the man’s legs seemed paralyzed from fear.

His wife cried out, "What’s going on, what are you doing? Des, what’s happening!"

Monahan did not answer her. Call said, "Come here, Mrs. Monahan. You’re going to tie your husband up for me."

"No, no—I can’t."

"Do it!"

She recoiled in fear from the terse command, but then walked over and took the rope from her son. She knelt next to her husband and began tying his hands. She said, "What’s going on? Who is this man?"

Her husband finally found his voice. "Bounty hunter."

"A bounty hunter? But there must be a mistake." She had finished her task and stood up, turning to Call. "You’ve made a mistake, isn’t that obvious?"

"I’m sorry, ma’am. Sorry you and your boy have to watch this, but there’s no mistake. Your husband’s wanted for murder."

"No, that can’t be. That can’t be."

He ignored her now, grabbing the trussed-up man by the collar of his coat. "Look, Monahan. You come along nice and quiet now. Don’t make things worse for your family than they already are. I don’t think they’d like to watch you being lynched."

Monahan said nothing. Call heard the wife saying something more, but he had to shut it out and so he could get the man to Curtis Wells before the posse showed up. He put Monahan on his horse and then mounted the Hell Bitch.

The woman ran in front of the Hell Bitch and grabbed the reins. "Please, Mr. Call, please. Just let us go, I’m begging you. Think of my boy and what this would do to him."

Tears streamed down her face. He found it as easy to gaze on her face as it was to stare straight into the blinding sun. He looked away, saying, "Ma’am, if I let him go there’s goin’ to be a posse on you before you can get five miles from here. You won’t like what you’ll be forced to see if that happens."

The woman still wouldn’t let go of the reins. He said, "I’ve got to take him back to Curtis Wells. But from there I’ll take him to the circuit judge. He’ll get a fair trial. I promise you."

She said nothing, but finally let the reins go. He rode out, leading Monahan on his horse.

* * * * * * *

He arrived in Curtis Wells with Monahan by early afternoon. He’d given him a little trouble on the way in—tried to jump off his horse and run for it, but only managed to hurt his arm. Call guessed he’d sprained his elbow. The man groaned in pain almost the whole way into town.

The streets were eerily deserted—evidently, Mosby’s posse was still out looking for Monahan. Only Zeke, one of Mosby’s men, was in the sheriff’s office. He opened the cell for Call, who roughly pushed Monahan in. The man huddled in a corner, holding his elbow, moaning and crying.

Call sat down at the desk, put his legs up and started rolling a cigarette.

Monahan said, "I need a doc for my arm."

"What you need is a miracle, you son of a bitch."

He sat waiting for less than an hour when he finally heard men riding back into town. Zeke went out to greet Mosby and give him the news that the killer had been apprehended.

Mosby burst into the room, followed by a crowd that spilled out of the office and into the street. It seemed to consist of every male citizen of the town. Call detected Josiah, Doc Cleese, UnBob, Ike and even Austin, who wasn’t drunk for a change, among the throng. Call saw those who couldn’t horn their way into the office looking in the windows, faces contorted with rage.

Mosby turned to Call and said, in an almost mocking tone, "Well done, Mr. Call. Well done. You have more than earned your bounty this time."

Someone in the crowd cried out, "What we waitin’ for? Let’s string the bastard up here and now!"

There was a loud cheer in agreement with this sentiment.

Mosby stared at Call, visibly peeved by his comfortable pose sitting behind the sheriff’s desk. He tore his eyes away and turned to the crowd, putting his hands up in a calming gesture. "All in due time, all in due time. How’s about you all go on over to the Ambrosia first. Drinks on me!"

That cleared the room pretty fast. Ike started heading out with the crowd, but Mosby reached over and grabbed him. "Not you, Deputy Ike. You’ve got business to attend to here."

Monahan’s moaning was getting louder. Mosby looked toward the cell, then back at Call. He said, "What’s his problem?"

Call shrugged. "Hurt his arm trying to escape."

"Aw, now that is truly a shame, Monahan." Mosby laughed harshly. "Well, the citizens of Curtis Wells can be very obliging. We’ll cure that arm for you by hanging you as quick as possible."

Call stood up and said, "Considerin’ the circumstances and all—I think I’d better escort him to the circuit judge."

"The circuit judge?" He dismissed the idea with a wave of the hand. "Do you really think that mob will even let you take two steps out of town with him?"

Call looked at him levelly, hoping he could make the man see sense. "They might, if you send some of your men along, too. If you say it’s the way it should be done."

Mosby smiled. "Givin’ free advice now, Call? Or is there an extra fee attached?"

"Just thought you wouldn’t like the town getting torn up."

"No, I wouldn’t. Which is why Mr. Monahan gets his trial here, today."

He was about to argue some more, but Mosby cut him off. "He will get his say, but in front of the citizens of this town. Is that understood?"

"You do that, and it’ll be no better than a lynching. Besides, there’s somethin’—"

As he was saying this, he noticed the door had opened. Mosby turned around and said sharply, "I told you all to go over to the Ambrosia—"

He shut up suddenly. Call saw why. Eliza Monahan was walking into the sheriff’s office, leading her boy by the hand.

Mosby leaned over to him and asked in a low voice, "Who the hell are they?"

"Monahan’s family. That’s what I was trying to tell you."

"His—?" This news plainly did not please him at all. "Well, that’s just splendid."

She looked around the room. Her eyes landed on Ike, apparently deciding he was the one to speak to from the badge pinned on his vest. "May I tend to my husband, please?"

Ike gave her a weasely smile. "Well, I guess so, but I’ll have to search you first—"

Mosby thumped Ike sharply between the shoulder blades and said, "Just let her in. Now!"

Ike bowed his head. "Yes, sir, Mr. Mosby." He got the key and unlocked the cell.

She turned to her boy and told him to wait for her outside. The boy nodded and left. She entered the cell, sweeping past Mosby. Monahan grabbed at his wife and started pleading again for her to forgive him. Mosby made a sound of disgust.

Call lowered his voice, hoping Mrs. Monahan couldn’t hear. "I promised her, Mosby. I promised her husband would appear before the circuit judge."

He looked at him incredulously. "Why in the hell did you do that? You don’t have the authority!"

"You know it’s the right thing to do."

"Don’t you preach to me about right and wrong," he said in an icy tone. "You’re just a bounty hunter, Call, so start actin’ like one. Take your bounty and go rest up on your bench."

He felt himself flush with anger, but there was so use arguing with him. It was true, he had no authority. "Mosby, for once can’t you just—"

"You won’t get any of my men, or any others, for that matter, to go with you. He stays here." He gave him a warning look. "Don’t even think of pullin’ something. It’ll be the last thing you ever try, I promise you."

Call said nothing. He was no fool—he couldn’t face that mob down alone, not even with an entire arsenal at his disposal. He wanted to kick the place apart. But at the same time, he couldn’t imagine what possessed him to make such a promise to the Monahan woman. He’d known perfectly well how it would all end.

Mosby seemed to regard the subject as irrevocably closed. He said, "I’m headin’ over to the Ambrosia. I don’t suppose you want a drink on me?"

He shook his head. Mosby rolled his eyes. "Didn’t think so. I’ll send one of the men over with your bounty."

As Mosby headed for the door, Mrs. Monahan stood up quickly and walked over to the cell door. When he passed her, she said, "How much?"

He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to her. "I beg your pardon?"

"How much was the bounty?"

Looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable, he replied, "One hundred dollars."

"I see." She turned to Call. "Not bad for one morning’s work, Mr. Call."

She had that look on her face again, that one of resignation when he’d told her about how easy it would have been to find a doctor for her child. Resignation and disappointment. In him, he realized. He turned to Mosby.

"Think I’ll have that drink after all, Mosby."

* * * * * * *

Mosby saw to it that the trial was short and sweet. As on similar occasions, it was held in the Ambrosia. Five witnesses had seen Monahan shoot the child, and the man didn’t help himself by breaking down and confessing, saying over and over again that he was sorry.

Mrs. Monahan watched all this with a shocked look on her face, apparently appalled by the circus-like atmosphere and the quick conclusion when Mosby pronounced the sentence of hanging. The crowd began spilling out into the street right after, and several of Mosby’s men took Monahan back to the jail, while others set out to get the rope ready for the hanging.

Mosby was surprised when she did not follow the crowd out. Instead, she walked straight over to him and blocked his path.

"May I speak to you?"

"Of course." He stood and waited.

"I meant privately."

He nodded and led her upstairs to his office. He offered her a chair and she sat down, folding her hands in her lap. Silently, he cursed Monahan, first for shooting a child dead in his town, then for having a family who would be forced to watch him hang. Now he had to listen to his wife plead for his life, but knew there was nothing--not tears, cries or screams--that would persuade him to stop the hanging. He sat behind his desk and waited for the ugly scene he knew was about the unfold.

He studied her for a moment. Luckily, she didn’t seem to be the hysterical type. She was dressed head to toe in black, as if she were already a widow. In spite of the homespun appearance of her clothes, it suddenly struck him that she reminded him of girls he’d known back in Virginia, all of whom were taught proper comportment and to speak in modulated tones. He could not begin to imagine how someone like her found herself attached to loser like Monahan. He couldn’t help thinking the poor woman would be better off rid of the bastard, and so would her boy.

He reached for a bottle of whisky and shot glass on his desk and offered her a drink.

She shook her head. "I was raised amongst temperance people."

"Oh." He found himself shoving the bottle aside, wondering how he could have made such a boneheaded miscalculation.

She began. "I asked to speak to you because everyone else seems to defer to you."

"With good reason. You see, this is my town."

"Your town?" Her voice was even and calm, but he thought his ear detected the slightest note of derision in it.

"What I mean is, I’m its leadin’ citizen."

"Well, isn’t that something to be." This time there was no mistaking the sarcasm. Before he could answer, she said, "Then what you say goes, is that it?"

"Hardly. As you can see, we had a trial—"

"You call that ridiculous travesty a trial?"

"Well—"

"Mr. Mosby, you must allow my husband to have a proper trial in front of the circuit judge. Surely, that’s not too much to ask."

"I know Mr. Call promised you that he would, but I’m afraid that it’s out of the question."

"Why?"

"Believe me when I tell you that the people in this town won’t let your husband leave the city limits before lynchin’ him."

She eyed him coolly. "So this is your town, but you have no control over it?"

Mosby paused before answering her. "What I mean is, people here are dependin’ on me to make sure that justice is done."

"Don’t you really mean they’re depending on you to make sure they get the blood they’re clamoring for?"

He actually felt himself breaking out into a sweat over that, and decided it was time to bring this to a quick conclusion. "Mrs. Monahan, I know this is all a terrible ordeal for you. I’m deeply sorry for you and your boy. But you have to accept the inevitable. Nothin’ and no one is goin’ to save your husband from his fate."

He expected her to crumple at that, but to his surprise she remained fairly calm. She spoke quietly. "Don’t you think I already know that? You say you’re sorry for my boy. How am I supposed to teach him to respect the law when you people just summarily execute his father without even a pretense of a proper hearing?"

He tried to answer that, but couldn’t stop her from going on. "My husband is not an evil person, Mr. Mosby. He deserves better than this."

Mosby could hardly keep the acid out of his voice. "He killed a child, Mrs. Monahan. An innocent little girl."

This time, tears did glisten in her eyes, but she still kept her composure. She cleared her throat. "There are such things as extenuating circumstances. I know he didn’t mean to do it. He’s not an outlaw. He’s never done anything criminal before in his life."

He must have had a cynical look on his face, because she said, "Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Men have a whole life they keep separate from their wives. But take my word for it, if he’d done anything like this before, I’d have known about it."

She sounded so sure of herself that he found himself asking, "How?"

She raised her eyes and looked at him steadily. "Because, Mr. Mosby, he would have been caught, just like he was this time. He—he’s not a man who’s been blessed with a whole lot of luck."

Except in his choice of a wife, Mosby thought. He said, "I’m sorry, Mrs. Monahan."

A few tears finally fell, and she wiped them quickly away. "Well. I guess there’s no point in talking anymore, is there?"

"No."

She rose from the chair, so he stood up also. She said, "When will it be?"

"Within the hour."

"Oh." The word was the barest whisper.

"Is there anythin’—?"

She had turned and gone out the door before he could finish. He reached over for the whiskey bottle and poured himself a stiff drink.

* * * * * * *

Amanda stood outside the No. 10 and watched her entire clientele stream out of the tent to head for the edge of town to watch the hanging. Except, of course, for the usual couple of drunks who were passed out cold.

There was one thing she never got her jollies from, and that was watching a hanging. Even when the one being hung so richly deserved his fate. Still, since tent-town was close to being deserted, she did start strolling closer to the center of town. Naturally, she spotted Austin heading out with the crowd.

She knew she should stay close to the 10, because people seemed to develop a terrific thirst after watching such a stimulating event, but she dawdled a bit. Then her eye caught sight of a woman leaving the Ambrosia Club. She watched her as she went over to a little boy standing close to the entrance. The woman glanced around, watching all the people heading out of town. For some reason Amanda couldn’t imagine, the woman’s gaze finally rested on her. Amanda looked behind her and to the side to see if she could be looking at someone else.

The woman walked towards her, leading the child by the hand. She stopped right in front of her and said, "Excuse me."

Curious, Amanda smiled and asked, "What can I do for you?"

"I’m sorry to bother you, but you don’t seem to be, that is, you’re not—" The woman looked nervously at the little boy by her side.

It finally dawned on Amanda that this was the wife of the man being hung. She’d heard the gossip in the tent already about the trial. She had been as revolted as everyone else to hear that the man had a wife and child.

"I guess you need someone to keep an eye on him?" Amanda gestured towards the boy.

"Oh, yes. Could you—I mean, would you just make sure he doesn’t...see."

"See what, Ma?" The boy looked up at his mother.

"Never you mind, Robbie," the woman said sharply. She looked at Amanda. "Would you, Mrs....?"

"Amanda." She eyed the child as if he were an exotic creature in a zoo. She shrugged. "Why, sure I will. I’ll take him into the Dove and get them to give him something to eat. How’s that?"

"I’d be ever so grateful." She pushed the boy towards Amanda. "Now, mind this lady, understand? I’ll be back soon."

The woman scurried away, heading for the sheriff’s office. Amanda looked at the boy, and the boy looked at her.

Finally, she said, "Well, don’t just stand there, kid. You hungry or somethin’?"

The boy nodded. Amanda sighed, relieved. At least the boy would be busy eating and she wouldn’t have to talk to him.

"Well, let’s get to it, then."

* * * * * * *

Call stood by the jail cell with a whiskey bottle in his hand. He opened it, poured out some for Ike in his cup, then took a long slug himself. He poked the bottle through the cell bars at Monahan.

Monahan had finally stopped moaning and crying. He looked up blandly and said, "My wife don’t like it when I drink."

Ike snickered. "Hardly matters now, do it?"

Monahan guffawed. "Guess it don’t." He took the bottle from Call, took a long swallow and then handed it back to him.

Ike wandered to the other side of the office. Call leaned in closer to the cell. "Why’d you do it, Monahan?"

"For my wife."

Call felt his stomach turning in disgust. "You got the nerve to blame your wife for this?"

"Hell, I don’t mean it were her idea! I mean—she was used to a better life once. Better than the one I could give her. Just wanted her to have some nice things again. Oh, your kind don’t know what it’s like when you’ve got a family."

Call took another swig of whiskey and wiped his mouth. "I’ll tell you something, Monahan. If I had a nice wife and son like that, I’d never be standing where you are now." And my daughter wouldn’t be lying in her grave, he thought. Irresponsible bastard.

Monahan laughed derisively. "You’d never be able to get a wife like her. Not in a million years."

They shut up when they saw her walking into the office. Mrs. Monahan looked at Call, at the bottle in his hand, then turned her head away from him. She said to Ike, "Deputy, may I sit with my husband for a bit?"

Possibly still smarting from the thump Mosby had given him earlier, Ike almost tripped on his own feet getting over to the cell to open it.

Before walking into the cell, she stared at Call until he took the hint and walked to the other side of the office. She sat on the cot next to her husband. Mindful of his injured arm, she embraced him, again in that almost maternal gesture Call had seen earlier.

"Libby, I’m—"

She shushed him, then let him go. She reached into her sleeve and extracted a handkerchief, then began wiping the perspiration from his face. "There’s only one thing left you can do for our boy, Des," she said. "Die like a man. Promise me this one thing."

He just nodded his assent. They embraced again, then kissed. Both Call and Ike looked away.

Several of Mosby’s men burst into the office all of a sudden. One of them yelled, "On your feet, Monahan!"

Monahan still held his wife in his arms, so the man reached over and yanked them apart, pulling him up on his feet. She stood up and watched, wincing, as they roughly tied her husband’s hands together. Call could see Monahan meant to keep his word to his wife—he barely reacted to the pain he had to be feeling when they pulled back his injured arm.

The sun was already low in the sky as they arrived at the makeshift gallows. A good-sized crowd, the largest Call had ever seen even for a hanging, had already gathered. He saw the parents of the little girl, the two forgotten people in this little drama. Eliza Monahan, recognizing them from the trial, quickly looked away when she spotted them standing close by her.

Two of Mosby’s men put Monahan on his horse, while Zeke fitted the noose around his neck. Mrs. Monahan stood at the front of the crowd. Mosby walked over to her.

"Are you certain you want to be here, Mrs. Monahan?"

Without turning to look at him, she said, "Of course I’m going to stay here. Right to the end, as is my place."

"As you wish." He turned to Monahan and, as usual, asked if he had anything he wanted to say.

Call had to admit the man had more gumption than he gave him credit for. Monahan almost managed to sound dignified.

He said, "Only that I have the best wife a man ever had. God forgive me for not being a better husband and father."

That seemed to be all, so Mosby nodded to his man, who brought his hand down on the rump of Monahan’s horse.

To Call’s relief, it was over fast—no struggling, no gagging. It was done so quick that some people in the crowd almost seemed disappointed. They’d expected special torture and retribution against a man who’d committed such a terrible crime. Several men, including Call, removed their hats and stood silently as the rope swung back and forth. A few women sobbed a bit.

Not Eliza Monahan. She stood frozen, her face so white that Call was sure she was going to faint dead away. She didn’t, though. She turned away from the horrible sight in front of her, stumbling slightly. Mosby reached out to steady her, but she pulled away from him violently. Then she looked over the crowd, with a cold, accusing stare, and Call felt a chill go up his spine.

So, apparently, did others, because as she began walking through the crowd, everyone stood aside, quieter than ghosts, giving her a wide path.

She’d spoiled everyone’s fun. Instead of whooping it up and beating it over to one of the saloons, everyone started to slowly disperse in various directions. Mosby ordered Zeke to cut Monahan down and take him to the undertaker. Call found himself standing next to Mosby.

"Got a bad feeling about this, Mosby. Bad, " said Call.

Mosby turned to him, genuinely surprised. "You’re not suggestin’ we should have let him go?"

"Not suggestin’ nothin’."

"Even if he’d appeared before the circuit judge, it would have ended exactly the same. The man needed hanging."

"I reckon so."

They stood quietly and watched Eliza Monahan stagger towards the Dove.

* * * * * * *

Amanda and the little boy sat alone in the dining room of the Dove. He’d been hungry, indeed, and was still shoveling stew in his face when people began pouring back into the hotel. A few had recovered their boisterousness, and were commenting on the merits of the hanging, or rather, the lack thereof. Several sat at a table next to Amanda.

"Hell, that were a piss-poor hangin’. Ain’t no real hangin’ lessen they’s tongues hang out and faces turn purple." This from an ugly fellow who smelled as though he’d bathed recently in a vat of whisky.

There were murmurs of agreement. Then there began a rather grisly litany of details about other hangings. The boy didn’t seem to notice, but Amanda turned to the group.

"Hey! Shut up!"

Ugly turned to her and scowled, "Who in the hell you tellin’ to—"

"Shut. Up." Amanda jerked her head towards the boy sitting opposite her. The group saw the boy and several began coughing and shifting a little in their seats. Ugly ripped a bottle of whisky out of the hand of a waitress who was going by and pulled open the stopper.

"Can’t even enjoy a hangin’ no more," he grumbled.

Eliza Monahan walked into the Dove and went straight to her boy. The boy stopped eating and looked at his mother. Amanda could see why. She looked about two steps away from death’s door herself.

"Ma, you sick?"

She shook her head and sank into the chair next to his. Amanda reached over and touched her shoulder.

"You need a doctor, honey? Why don’t I run over and—"

She shook her head again, but she did accept a glass of water on the table that Amanda shoved over in front of her and drank it slowly. The water seemed to revive her a little. She said, "Are you finished, Robbie?"

"Yes, ma’am."

"Good."

Amanda said, "You better get a room. Do you want me to tend to that for you?"

The woman shook her head. "No, I did that before, when we first got here. But thank you—"

"Amanda."

"Yes. Thank you. You are so kind."

Not really, Amanda thought to herself. But she did feel a throb of pity for the woman. She wouldn’t want to have to do what she had to do right now for all the money in the world—tell that boy what happened to his father. She wasn’t sorry to leave when she was able to get away from them.

* * * * * * *

"What kind of coffin were you thinkin’ on?"

Eliza didn’t hear the man; she was too busy looking at the ghastly sight on the slab in front of her. She tried to feel something, anything, but all she could think about was how he would look to Robbie, and she knew that she couldn’t allow him to see his father this way.

She turned to the undertaker and said, "Can you do anything about the way he looks, Mr.—"

The undertaker seemed to smile a lot for a man in his line of work. He said, "Finch. But you can call me UnBob. Most everybody does."

She squinted at him. "Un—?"

"See, I had this brother Bob, so my folks, they named me—"

Surely, she must be going mad, and this conversation was proof. She broke in. "Mr. Finch, can you do something about the way he looks? I’d really rather my son didn’t see his father like this."

The man scratched his head and thought about it. "Well, I don’t know. See, I ain’t been doin’ this undertakin’ for too long and—"

"Never mind, then. We’ll just close up the coffin."

"What kind, then?"

"I don’t know." She was so low on cash. She planned to sell most of their valuables, but at the moment— "What do you charge?"

"Oh, that don’t matter, ma’am. Mr. Mosby, he told me the town would stand the expense, seein’ as how we hung him and all."

She got off a harsh laugh. "How very thoughtful."

"Ain’t it? Mr. Mosby’s a very thoughtful man."

She eyed the man to see if he was joking and saw that he meant what he said to the very fiber of his being. It finally dawned on her she was talking to someone a few bricks short of a load. Wonderful, she thought.

She said, "In that case, the most expensive one you make."

"Yes ma’am. Now, how’s about the marker? What you want it to say?"

"His name, of course. Desmond Andrew Monahan." A thought struck her. "And I want it to say ‘Beloved Husband and Father.’ In great big letters. Understand? That’s very important. And then the dates he was born and—died."

That was too much for the man to process all at once, she could see. The vagueness clouded his eyes again. She said, "I’ll write it all down. You can read and write, can’t you?"

"Well, a little. That’s an awful lot to put on one marker, ma’am, if you don’t mind my sayin’ so. Don’t know how I’ll get it to fit and all."

She sighed. It was too much of a struggle to get the man to understand, so she said, "Just his name, then. That’ll do. I’ll write it out for you."

For the second time in two days, she stood over a grave with her son at her side. She almost broke down when she saw Robbie bend over and pick up a clump of dirt, handing it to her in the exact same way she’d done with him the day before.

There was no one else there but the undertaker, who held his hat over his heart for a bit while they stood over the grave. She couldn’t bring herself to pray or say anything, afraid she would fall to pieces. Of course, there wasn’t even a preacher in that little eyesore of a town to say some proper words over Des.

She looked at Robbie, and the fear she’d felt since she knew she would have to tell him about his father gripped her again. He’d cried, of course, they both had, almost all night. She’d been as truthful about what had happened as she thought his eight year old mind could stand. He had adored his father and couldn’t fathom him doing anything bad. She tried to explain that his father hadn’t meant to do it, and he had indignantly shouted that of course his father never meant to do anything, that it was all a terrible mistake.

The scene replayed in her mind over and over, and she knew it would mark him for life. The thought made her feel weak in the knees. How would he ever overcome this? She didn’t know the answer, and thought darkly that her son may well end up as lost as his father was now.

She felt herself sway and reached out to steady herself. Mr. Finch caught her arm. When the spell of dizzyness passed, she looked at him, and saw he was shy and embarrassed about having to touch her. It was such an innocent gesture that she felt terrible for having mean thoughts about him. He was really very sweet.

"Thank you, Mr., I mean Un—Bob?"

That pleased the man, she could see. Poor blighter. She patted his arm, then left him to fill in the grave. She took Robbie’s hand, and they went down the hill back to town.

The sun was very bright and hit her square in the eyes, making her dizzy again. Noting the various disreputable, scary-looking types hanging around tent-town on the way to the grave site, she’d meant to get herself and Robbie through there as quick as possible, but her legs seemed to refuse to obey her command to walk fast. She had to pause every so often when she felt a wave of dizziness come upon her.

Like buzzards spotting a dying deer, a couple of low-lifes hanging about outside the No. 10 noted her distress. They looked at each other and cracked gap-toothed grins. They wandered over to her and pushed the boy away.

The boy said, "Hey, you leave—"

"Shut up, sonny," one of the low-lifes growled. "I just want to have a friendly talk with your ma."

They took her by the arms, one easily plucking her handbag out of her hand. She knew she had to stop them, but barely had the strength to struggle. Then the world blacked out.

* * * * * * *

Amanda walked out of the No. 10, tossing some dirty water out of a bucket. She saw what was happening and threw down the bucket as she ran back into the tent. She charged over to Austin, who sat at a table, smoking a cigarette. Without saying a word, she reached over and took his Colt out of its holster.

"Wha—?"

She didn’t wait to explain. She ran back outside, aiming the gun right at the first lowlife. "You let go of her or you’re dead. Now!" To make her point, she cocked the pistol and fired a shot at his feet.

The lowlife let Mrs. Monahan go and fled. The other one was about to, too, but she aimed and cocked the pistol at him before he had the chance. "Drop that bag, or you’ll find yourself in a grave next to her husband."

As she expected, the lowlife wasn’t the brave type and obeyed, running to join his friend.

She picked up the bag, and saw the woman was crumpled up in a dead faint. The boy was sitting on the ground by his ma, crying. He looked up at Amanda. "Is she gonna die too, now?"

"No, no." Truth be told, she wasn’t so sure. She yelled for Austin, who had come outside of the 10 and watched what had happened.

"Take her back to my tent, then you better get Cleese."

He nodded and did what she said, carrying the woman into her tent and then setting off to find the doctor. She hoped he would hurry, because the woman really did seem ready for planting. She set about loosening her clothes. Then she turned to the boy and decided it might save time if she asked him some questions she was sure the doc would ask.

"Listen, kid. Does your ma make a habit of fainting?"

"No, ma’am." He seemed shocked at the thought. "Ma don’t ever get sick."

"You remember the last time she ate somethin’?"

The boy gave it some thought. "I don’t think she’s had anything since Sissy got sick."

"Who?"

"Sissy. My little sister. She died yesterday morning."

"Oh. Oh, I see." That really shocked her. No wonder the poor thing had fainted dead away. She’d had more to take in two days than most people had to deal with in a whole lifetime.

She walked over to her bureau and took her pitcher from it, handing it to the boy. "Now, you walk down to the pump and get me some water. Can you do that?"

He looked reluctant to leave his mother, but he nodded and left.

Cleese came in soon after, carrying his medical bag. Amanda told him what the boy had told her. He nodded and started examining the woman.

When he was done, he said, "Well, from what the boy says, it’s not so strange she collapsed."

"She’ll be O.K., then?"

"I should think so, with proper care and rest. Would it be too much trouble for you to look after her for a day or two? She really shouldn’t be moved."

"Yeah, sure. I’ll keep her here until she’s ready to go back to the hotel."

"Good. Now, when she wakes up, make sure she takes some broth, and then maybe a little milk and bread, if she’s up to it. Impress upon her how important it is that she eat, even if she doesn’t want to."

"I will, Doc."

Cleese left and Austin came back into the tent. He eyed Amanda.

She looked back at him. "What?"

"Why you goin’ to all this bother for her?"

She rolled her eyes. "You know the trouble with you, Austin?"

"No, but I guess you’re going to tell me. You always do."

"Lack of imagination. You—"

Just then, the boy came back in, toddling a little under the weight of the pitcher filled with water. She took it from him and poured some of the water into a basin.

"Kid, your ma’s gonna be fine. Doc said so. Nothin’ for you to worry about. O.K.?"

"O.K." The boy even managed to smile a little at the news.

Austin wandered out of the tent. Amanda dipped a rag in the water and wrung it out, then put the compress on the woman’s forehead. The woman didn’t even stir. There didn’t seem to be anything else she could do for her, so she told the boy to come get her if his ma woke up, and she headed back to the No. 10.

When she came back to check on them in the early evening, she found the boy had fallen asleep across the foot of the bed. She woke him up and took him for another meal, and when they were done asked the waitress at the Dove to pack some broth for her to take with her.

The woman was awake when they got back. She weakly called out to her son, and he ran to her. She embraced him, tears falling down her face.

"Here, Mrs. Monahan. Got you some broth. Doc told me to make sure you eat it all up."

The woman spoke in a low whisper. "I couldn’t possibly—"

"None of that, now. You don’t want to die on your boy, do you?"

Stricken, the woman shook her head. Amanda said, "Then take it."

She poured the broth into a large mug and handed it to the woman, who struggled to sit up. She took a small sip, and then another. Soon, she was trying to drink it down in one swallow, realizing for the first time that she was very hungry, after all.

"Hold on, now. Not so fast," Amanda said, afraid the woman would just retch it all back up.

The woman nodded and slowed down.

"Would you like a little more?"

She nodded again and held out the mug. Amanda smiled. "Good. That’s a hopeful sign."

She finished another whole mug. The nourishment helped to bring a little color back into her face, but because of the dark rings under her eyes she still looked very ill. She handed the empty mug to Amanda and leaned back on the pillows.

"I always seem to be thanking you, Amanda. I don’t know what else—"

"Don’t bother. Just being neighborly, Mrs. Monahan."

"Please. Call me Eliza."

"Well, Eliza, I know these ain’t exactly luxury accommodations—"

"Oh, it’s fine," said Eliza. "Believe me, we’ve slept in some bad places over the last year." She must have caught how that sounded, because she started and said, "What I mean is—"

Amanda laughed. "I know what you mean, honey. No apologies necessary."

"I hate putting you out."

"Oh, don’t worry. I’ll find a place to sleep." She couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed. That meant bunking with Austin. Oh, well—the best way to keep him on her side, she knew by now, was to give him certain kinds of attention on a regular basis. Not, she thought sourly, that he’d proven much use to her so far.

"Well, I’ll leave you now. That is, if you think you’ll be all right. I can sit with you if you like."

Eliza shook her head. "Please don’t bother yourself. I’ll be fine."

Amanda left them and decided to head out to the Ambrosia to have a little chat with Mosby.

She found him in his office, doing paperwork. He looked up when he heard her come in, then grimaced.

"Amanda," he said in a tight voice. "This is a rare and special treat."

As she walked over to him, she said. "You almost make me feel like you ain’t glad to see me."

"Are you surprised? Considerin’ how the last time you were here you waved a pistol in my face—"

"—Aw, Clay, you know I was just funnin’ you a little."

"—And threatened to take my town away from me—how did you put it? Piece by piece?"

She could barely keep from laughing at the memory. She reached over and fiddled playfully with his tie. "How could little old me do such a thing to a big, strong, powerful man like yourself?"

He knocked her hand away, plainly not amused. "State your business. Then leave."

She made her face a mask of mock seriousness. "Tell me somethin’, Clay. Is bringing helpless women to their knees a new hobby of yours these days?"

He laughed out loud at that. He said, "Darlin’ you are a lot of things, but helpless is not one of them."

"Now, now. What made you think I was talkin’ about me?"

"Who, then?"

She leaned against the edge of his desk. "You mean to tell me you don’t know? I expect the whole town’s heard about how Eliza Monahan collapsed in the street today after the funeral. You remember, the fellow you hung—"

He cut in. "—I remember."

"You should have seen them—her and her boy. Never saw such a pitiful sight in all my days. Why, that poor child, thinkin’ he was losin’ his ma and pa both. Just about cried his little eyes out."

She saw that she’d hit a bullseye. He looked away from her, clearly disturbed by the news. "I am truly sorry to hear that."

"Are you?"

"Of course I am! But I couldn’t do different—I had no choice."

"Didn’t you?"

"Look, you want to blame someone, blame that son of a bitch Monahan. He—" He stopped suddenly and studied her, and she knew he’d realized she’d just come over to rile him up. He said, "What are you playin’ at, anyway? What’s it to you?"

"Me? Nothin’. Just don’t like folks almost dying on my doorstep because of you, is all."

He scoffed at that. "Oh, stop."

She knew the fun of needling him was over, and much too quick to suit her. She turned to leave. As she got to the door, she heard him call out her name.

"Yeah?" She turned.

"How bad off is she? Really."

She shrugged. "Cleese says she’ll recover in a day or two."

"Oh. Well, good. That’s good."

She left and closed the door behind her. She was glad the news had shaken him up, just as she’d hoped. But something about his manner bothered her, and she couldn’t account for it.

* * * * * * *

After she left, Mosby tried to get back to work, but found he couldn’t concentrate. Throwing his pencil aside, he decided to go downstairs and take over for Carson for a while behind the bar rather than sit there and think about Eliza Monahan and her little boy.

A short while after he started tending the bar, Cleese walked in. Mosby groaned inwardly. The man always delighted in talking about his patients and sharing the details of every case. He poured Cleese a whisky and waited for the inevitable.

Cleese drank some of his whisky, a little faster than usual, but didn’t seem inclined to talk about Mrs. Monahan or anything else, for that matter.

Josiah, who’d already knocked back quite a few whiskies, brought up the subject instead. "Mosby, heard about what happened to that Monahan woman? Collapsed over in tent-town."

Mosby looked around the room, seeing everyone else had heard and seemed to be turning accusing eyes on him. The rotten, hypocritical bastards. As if they hadn’t all clamored for Monahan’s death, and enjoyed it in the bargain. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Call at the other end of the bar and noted that he was startled by the news.

"I heard, " he said shortly, pushing another shot of whisky at Josiah.

"Poor woman," said Josiah.

Cleese finally found his voice. "Did you know her little girl died yesterday morning, just before Call found Monahan?"

Mosby looked at Cleese, hoping he hadn’t heard right. "What?"

"Isn’t that so Mr. Call?" Cleese turned to Call, who seemed to want to bolt for the door.

Call, who held a glass of beer in his hand, swallowed some and said, "Yeah."

Cleese said, "Imagine, hardly having time to mourn your dead child, and then having to watch your husband hang the same day."

Now for sure it wasn’t Mosby’s imagination. Cleese and Josiah were definitely looking at him in a peculiar way. He said, "Hold on a minute—are you trying to imply this woman’s misfortunes are my fault?"

No one said anything at first. Then Call turned around and faced them. "You could have sent her husband to be tried in front of the circuit judge, like I asked. That wouldn’t have been no skin off your nose."

Josiah said, "That might have been a better idea."

Everyone eyed Mosby again. He couldn’t believe how they were turning on him. He knew perfectly well they would have torn Monahan limb by limb before they’d have let Call take him a mile out of town. It was obvious, however, that everyone had chosen to forget about that. He said, "Look, I’m sorry for this woman’s troubles. I didn’t know about her recent tragedy." He turned to Call. "Or are you goin’ to blame me for that, too?"

Call drank another sip of beer. Without looking at anyone he grudgingly admitted, "She sent Monahan to get a doctor. He come here to rob the bank instead."

Mosby leapt on that scrap of information like a hen on a junebug. "See? Now there you have it. You blame that husband of hers. Why, he’s responsible for the deaths of two children, not just one. No one deserved hangin’ more than him."

Josiah smiled a little. "If you keep saying it, you just might believe it."

"What in the hell do you suggest I do, Josiah? Dig the man up? I wouldn’t if I could. "

"Nothing anyone can do," said Josiah in a sing-songy voice. "It’s all gone to hell, and nothing and no one can change it."

Through clenched teeth, Mosby said, "The murderin’, thievin’ bastard got exactly what he deserved."

Cleese said, "Maybe. But surely his wife doesn’t deserve what she’s getting."

Mosby gave up trying to reason with them. Why was he letting Josiah’s crazed ramblings and Cleese’s prissy nonsense get to him? But he could see he wasn’t the only one. He was surprised to see Call walking out of the Ambrosia, perhaps as fed up with the discussion as he was.

"All right, that’s enough," said Mosby. "There’s got to be another topic of conversation besides this Monahan woman."

Cleese opened his mouth to say something, but Mosby stopped him. "I mean it, Cleese. Everybody just shut up about it."

Cleese shrugged and sipped at his whisky. A gloomy silence suddenly settled on the entire room.

Mosby found himself yelling. "I didn’t mean shut up about everythin’! Talk about somethin’, for cryin’ out loud!"

The usual din returned slowly to the room. As he poured himself a whisky, he thought about how nice it would be to take a vacation from this place.

* * * * * * *

Austin rolled a cigarette as he and Amanda lay in bed together. After lighting it, he said, "You gonna let me in on what you’re up to with that Monahan woman?"

Amanda drew the covers over her. "What makes you think I’m up to anything? Can’t I do someone a kindness?"

Austin smirked. "Yeah, maybe one. I’d guess that’s your limit. But you’ve done more than that. How come? What’s it gonna get you?"

"Maybe nothin’. Or, maybe a whole lot."

"What you gettin’ at?"

"Austin, you’ve got to learn to take opportunities as they come to you." She said this as if to a small child, knowing it took a long time for him to figure out anything to do with strategy. "And you can’t always assume every effort will yield results."

"That so?"

Why else would I put up with a lunkhead like you, she thought. Aloud, she said, "Listen, all I know is, that woman’s got to hate Mosby’s guts worse than both you and me put together. And not just him. Call, too. He hauled her husband in on that murder charge right in front of her and her boy. That’s powerful, that hatred."

She could see some of this was finally starting to percolate through his brain. "You saying we can use that somehow? I don’t see how."

"There may not be a way. But in case there is, I want her beholden to me. That’s why I’m bein’ so nice to her."

She saw he was almost finished with his cigarette. Knowing he usually wanted another bout of loving at this point, she yawned loudly and turned away from him, settling down as if she meant to go right to sleep. Did no good. He reached over and started pawing her again.

The only thing that got her through tedious moments like these was knowing that she was going to see to it that Mosby paid for every second she was forced to put up with Austin. With his very hide, if she could manage it.

* * * * * * *

Mosby stood outside the Ambrosia a few days later, leaning against a post and smoking a cigar. A couple of Twyla’s girls, on their way to having breakfast at the Dove, walked by. He smiled at them and tipped his hat. They walked right by him, their noses stuck firmly in the air.

He looked after them, shocked. Who did those little tarts think they were?

Ever since the hanging, the whole damned town was turned inside out. He wanted things to get back to the way they were. He looked across the street and saw Call camped out on his usual bench, dozing. Well, at least some things hadn’t changed. Even so, he couldn’t help noting that Call was acting even more lethargic than usual. Ike had received several wanted posters, each carrying bounties of $100 or more, and Call hadn’t made even the smallest effort to go after them.

He was waiting to see if Cleese kept to what appeared to be a new habit for him—making a daily pilgrimage to the Dove to see the Monahan woman. Sure enough, like clockwork he saw Cleese depart from his office at 9:30 A.M. Well, he just couldn’t let him get by without saying something this time.

"On your way to see Eliza Monahan again, Doc?"

Cleese stopped dead in his tracks and turned to Mosby. "Yes."

Mosby, his voice dripping with concern, said, "Is she that bad off? Why, she must be hanging on to life by a mere thread to merit these daily examinations."

"On the contrary, Mr. Mosby. She’s well on the road to recovery."

"Glad to hear it. I’m sure that’s due to your careful attention. Almost above and beyond the call of duty."

"In fact, she’ll be able to travel by the end of next week."

"Really?"

Cleese smiled and tipped his hat, then continued on his way.

Now, that was good news. Mosby was sick and tired of people treating him like an ogre over this incident. He planned a trip to Miles City in a couple of days just to get away. By the time he returned, the whole thing would be forgotten. Everything would be just the way it was.

* * * * * * *

Amanda walked into Eliza’s room after rapping on the door. She saw that she’d gotten out of bed and had opened a case. She was laying out on the bed a few items of jewelry on a linen handkerchief. What a pathetic little pile, Amanda thought. Probably all she had in the world.

Amanda asked, "Those the things you’re hopin’ to sell?"

Eliza nodded. "It’s not much, is it? I don’t suppose you’d know where I could sell them?"

"Maybe." Amanda sat on the bed and picked up some garnet earbobs. Pretty, but rather old-fashioned. Probably belonged to her grandmother. There was also a gold chain and a couple of rings that didn’t look to be worth much.

Eliza asked, "What do you think I could get for the watch?"

Amanda picked it up and looked at it. This was a different story altogether. It was solid gold, and of fine craftsmanship. She wondered how she’d gotten a hold of it. "Nice piece of goods. Did it belong to your husband?"

"Yes."

"Wouldn’t you like to keep it for your boy?"

She said nothing, just shook her head.

"Why don’t I ask around and see what kind of deal I can make?"

"Oh, no—you’ve gone to too much trouble already."

"Ain’t no trouble at all. What else you got to sell?"

"Well, there’s the wagon and horses. Everything in the wagon, too. I suppose those things will be hard to get rid of. I certainly won’t be setting up house again anytime soon, so if you like, you can help yourself to anything you want."

"What’s this?" Amanda picked up a small, framed picture.

"Oh, that. No one will want it, the frame isn’t worth anything."

Amanda looked at the picture. It was one of those stuffy studio portraits people took before a special occasion. She recognized Eliza, who looked to be fifteen or sixteen. The dress she wore appeared to be a white evening gown, probably her first real grown-up dress. It was several years out of fashion, but even from just a photograph Amanda could tell it was of superior quality.

"Is this you?"

"Yes. Hard to believe, isn’t it?"

Amanda eyed her, and realized that the grief and sickness of the past days had very effectively hidden her natural beauty, which hadn’t diminished all that much since the picture had been taken. "Oh, you’ve hardly changed at all."

She blushed. "That’s nice of you to say, but I know it’s not true."

"What a beautiful dress!"

"Yes. That’s the dress I wore for my coming out. I got married in it, too, when Des and I eloped."

Amanda said nothing, hoping she would volunteer more details. Eliza obliged her.

"It was a stupid thing to do. We were too young and my family—my family disowned me."

"They got money?"

"Oh, yes. Filthy with it." Eliza laughed bitterly. "Mother would die if she heard me talking like that—talking about money was a worse sin in our house than cursing. Of course, now I know the reason we could be so above it all was because we had so much."

Now that was an interesting thing to know. "That so?"

"They’ll be so pleased to know they were right about everything. Although in their wildest dreams I doubt they imagined things would end the way they did." Tears welled up in her eyes again.

Amanda patted her shoulder. "Don’t fret now, honey. Things’ll get better. You’re going to put all this behind you."

"I wish I could believe that."

She seemed to be finished opening up about her past. Amanda gathered up the jewelry in the handkerchief. "Don’t worry about a thing. I’ll get a fair price for everything, you’ll see."

Amanda headed straight for the Ambrosia. Being relatively early in the day, it wasn’t too busy, and she found Clay behind the bar.

She couldn’t help getting a kick out of the dismayed look on his face every time she appeared in his line of vision. She walked over to the bar and dumped the jewelry on top of it.

Mosby asked, "What’s that?"

"Only everything in the world Mrs. Monahan has to her name. Pitiful, ain’t it?"

"Amanda, I don’t know what you think you’re going to gain by all this—"

"I’m just trying to help that poor woman out."

"Of course you are," he said acidly.

"Come on now, Clay. The least you could do for her is buy these things so she can get home."

He picked up one of the earbobs. "Now what would I want with these?"

"Oh, I don’t know." She picked up the other one and held it up to his ear. "I think they kind of suit you. Wear just one and you’ll look like a pirate." She laughed at her own joke.

"Very funny." He picked up the watch and examined it. "This here’s a fancy watch."

He opened it, and it began to play a little tune. On the inside was an inscription. Amanda leaned in to read it. "To Des, from your Libby" and dated nine years back.

She said, "Now ain’t that sweet."

The tune appeared to annoy him, as he closed up the watch with a quick snap. "You’d think she’d want to keep this. For the boy."

"I already asked her about that. She said no. Guess she can’t afford sentiment at the moment."

He reached under the bar and took out the cash box. He extracted a hundred dollar bill.

"Clay, really."

"I was goin’ to take out another." He did just that. She still looked at him. He said, "If I give her more, she’ll get suspicious. These things are hardly worth that much."

"I suppose." She took the money from him, and could barely keep from skipping out of the Ambrosia. If nothing else, the Monahan woman was providing her with the most fun she’d had in a long time.

* * * * * * *

When Amanda left, Mosby took the collection of jewelry to his upstairs safe. He put the things as far back into the safe as they would go and pulled some papers and stacks of money in front of them so he wouldn’t be able to see them every time he opened it.

He examined the handkerchief the things had been wrapped in. Though it was a bit frayed, he could see it was made of very fine linen. In one corner it was embroidered with the initials EM. He held the handkerchief close to his face, and detected the slightest scent of lavender.

He put it in his pocket and closed up the safe.

He had no idea what possessed him to head out for the Dove, or why he asked Zeke to accompany him. Before he’d really thought it through, he was climbing the stairs and finding himself in front of Mrs. Monahan’s room. He knocked.

She didn’t ask who it was, just called out, "Come in."

He slowly opened the door. She sat in a chair by the window in her nightdress, a shawl thrown over her shoulders. Her dark hair had been fashioned into a neat braid down her back. Her son slept in the bed beside her.

She turned, startled and displeased to see them. She quickly pulled the shawl more tightly around her.

She didn’t even make a pretense of civility. "What do you want?"

He removed his hat. Then, seeing that Zeke hadn’t followed suit, he reached up and yanked his off, too.

He tried to smile. "Just wanted to see how you were getting’ on, is all."

"Is that right," she said in a flat voice. She looked Zeke up and down. "Are you afraid of me, Mr. Mosby?

"Afraid? Why—"

"I can’t imagine any other reason why you’d bring your goon with you."

"What, you mean Zeke? Oh, he’s nothing of the kind, I assure you, Mrs. Monahan." Too late, he remembered Zeke was the one who put the noose around Monahan’s neck.

She looked him straight in the eye. "What is he then? Your footman?"

Mosby jerked his head to signal Zeke to leave, which the man did in record time. Then he reached into his pocket and drew out the handkerchief. He held it out to her. "I also wanted to return this to you."

She frowned. "How ever did you get a hold of that?"

"When Amanda brought your things over, the watch and all—"

"You bought them?" The words snapped through the air like a whip.

"Didn’t she tell you?"

"No, she most certainly did not." After a moment, she reached over and took the handkerchief from him, yanking it from his fingers as if they might burn the cloth.

He looked at the child’s prone figure on the bed. "Is your boy all right?"

Her eyes flashed. "What do you think?"

"Well, I—"

She looked at the boy, her face softening. "He sleeps a lot since it happened. I suppose so he won’t have to think about it very much."

"I heard about your little girl. I’m sorry."

She said nothing at first, only looked down at her hands clutching the handkerchief. In a low voice she finally said, "I think you should leave. Now."

He turned to leave, but couldn’t yet. He faced her again.

She said firmly, "Now, Mr. Mosby. Please leave my sight."

"I just wanted you to know, if there’s anythin’ I can do for you—"

She raised her eyes slowly to look at him again. "The moment when you could have helped me has passed."

"Mrs. Monahan, surely you realize that your husband’s life couldn’t be spared."

"I never asked you for his life. Only for a fair hearing. That’s all."

"I was tryin’ to prevent a lynching—"

She almost lost control of the even tone of her voice, but not quite. "As far as I’m concerned, that was a lynching."

A deafening silence enveloped the room. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

She leaned back in her chair and averted her eyes away from his. "Please go. You’re making me very tired."

He finally turned and left.

* * * * * * *

"Newt, Newt. Wake up."

Call opened one eye and saw Josiah standing in front of him. He responded by closing it right up again.

"Newt, I know you’re awake. Stop this foolishness now."

Giving up on hoping Josiah would go away, he opened both eyes and said, "What do you want, Josiah?"

He sat on the bench beside him. "I was wondering, Newt. Remember I once asked you if you’d take over the sheriffing?"

"I remember. Don’t you remember I said no?"

"Yes, but I thought after thinking on it for a time, you might change your mind."

Call couldn’t help recalling the sheriff’s badge Mattie had left for him before she departed for Miles City. He said thoughtfully, "Anyways, even if I wanted to, Mosby’d never let it happen."

Josiah seemed to find that statement very significant. "Does that mean if it weren’t for Mosby, you’d do it?"

Call held up his hand. "It don’t mean nothin’"

"Because I was thinking—people are awfully riled up over this Monahan hanging, and most think Mosby—"

"Most people are hypocrites, Josiah. They all wanted Monahan to be hung."

"You sound like you’re defending Mosby."

Call shrugged. "All I’m sayin’ is, they felt pretty good about the hanging when it first happened. Mosby couldn’t have done it all by himself."

"Maybe so, but it appears to me that the moment is ripe—"

"No."

"But—"

"Just leave me be, Josiah."

Josiah shrugged and was about to leave when he turned and said, "You know, if you were the law, then no one would have stopped you from taking Monahan to the circuit judge. Why don’t you think on that for a spell?"

Call said nothing, so he finally went away. Call felt the lethargy come over him again, and he was about to put his hat over his face and go back to sleep when he saw Mrs. Monahan and her boy crossing the street.

She was negotiating the mud, and had to stop when her foot got stuck. She paused and gave it a good yank to pull it out, then continued walking. He saw she was headed for the telegraph office, probably to buy tickets for the stage.

He got up and met her just as she opened the door.

"Mrs. Monahan."

She turned around quickly, and when she recognized him, she pulled her son over so he was standing behind her. The boy peered at Call from behind his mother, perhaps remembering the terrible spectacle of his father being dragged away.

She didn’t look at him. "What do you want, Mr. Call?"

"I—I thought I’d just give you this." He reached in his shirt pocket and drew out the cash. She turned and just stared at it.

He said, "It’s the hundred dollars—"

"Yes, I gathered that’s what it was, Mr. Call."

"I’d like you to have it. For the boy."

Her voice trembled as she spoke. "After you worked so hard for it? I wouldn’t dream of taking it from you."

"I only—"

For the first time since he knew her, she got very agitated. "How dare you? How dare you even think that I would take that blood money? Or that my son would appreciate that kind of gift?"

Her words were like cuts from a knife. Call looked at the ground. He quickly stuffed the money back in his pocket. "I’m sorry. Sorry. I did try to get your husband to a judge, ma’am."

She said, "Perhaps you did. Or perhaps the real truth is you were prepared to do or say anything so you could get your bounty." She turned away from him and went through the door, then pulled the boy in after her.

After she was gone, he went back to his bench and collapsed.

* * * * * * *

Mosby had Ike accompany him to the stagecoach the day he was due to depart for Miles City. The entire way, Mosby gave him his usual litany of instructions, most of which he knew Ike would ignore. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, that he’d put off doing something about the sheriff’s position for far too long. Advertising for one would be a solution, but he knew that any well-known lawman would be too independent-minded to suit him. He wanted a sheriff who he could mold into an obedient and efficient right-hand man.

He would ponder the problem while in Miles City, perhaps even find someone to take the job.

"You got all that, Ike?" He stopped in front of the stage, which stood in the middle of town, waiting to depart.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Mosby."

He knew the idiot had already forgotten most of what he’d said. He looked up and saw the driver was ready, but didn’t see Luther anywhere. He called up to the driver, "Emmett, ain’t you got someone to ride shotgun?"

"Not this trip, Mr. Mosby. Luther got held up in Sweet Grass Hills on the last trip. Was feelin’ poorly."

Probably hung over, Mosby thought.

The driver said, "I’d appreciate you keepin’ your weapon at the ready, Mr. Mosby, just in case."

Mosby nodded, then opened the stagecoach door. The sight that greeted him almost knocked him breathless.

Eliza Monahan and her boy were in the coach.

He found himself stuttering like a fool, "Why—why I thought you were leavin’ next week, Mrs. Monahan."

She was as unhappy to see him, he could tell. She merely said, "Dr. Cleese recommended I wait, but I was anxious to be on my way."

He just nodded, then realized he must have looked stupid with one foot up on the coach and the other still outside. He could hardly run away. And why should he? He was only going as far as Miles City. He boarded the coach and sat opposite them.

She had her arm around the child, the boy leaning against his mother as if he meant to go to sleep.

Mosby looked out the window and examined the sky. From the dark clouds gathering, he knew a storm was coming on. "Looks like we’re in for some rain. Slow goin’."

"Oh."

He started to say something else, but then she said, "I really don’t feel up to talking, Mr. Mosby."

He shut his mouth and settled back in his seat as the stage pulled out. This would probably be the longest trip of his life.

He wasn’t that far off the mark. The rain started and muddied up the way even worse than it already was, making it difficult for the horses to pull their load. They should have reached the first rest stop by early afternoon, but were hours off schedule. Luckily, both Mrs. Monahan and her son fell asleep soon after the journey started, though Mosby couldn’t imagine how anyone could sleep through the jolting ride.

Suddenly, the stage stopped. The abrupt lurch woke Mrs. Monahan up. She began to shake the boy awake, too. The driver opened the door.

He said, "Road’s washed out ahead. We’re only around the bend from the rest stop, so I think it’s best if the lady and her boy walk on while you and me pull the stage through, Mr. Mosby."

They all disembarked, Mrs. Monahan holding her shawl over her head in a futile effort to keep dry. The road was indeed washed out, and Mosby knew that it would be very dangerous to pull the stage through, as they were rather precariously positioned over a deep ravine.

Yet they couldn’t leave it, either, because he could see more mud slides were likely, especially as there was no sign that the rain would let up.

He watched Mrs. Monahan trying to climb down to the bottom of the wash-out, but it was fairly deep and he could see she could easily fall and injure herself. He told the driver he would be right back.

He came up behind her and took her arm and grabbed her waist. She looked at him, startled, but didn’t protest. They went down one side, then walked over to the other. He climbed up the other side and held out his hand. She took it and let him pull her up.

"Wait here, I’ll get your son."

She nodded.

The boy had already scrambled down one side and was trying to get up the other. He just needed a little help getting on top to join his mother.

He went back to help the driver. They quickly saw that trying to get the stagecoach over the wash-out would be suicide, so they began unhitching the horses and pulling them to the other side.

They got down one side of the slope with two of the horses without incident. It was while they were approaching the other side that they heard the mud slide start.

It was as if a rug had been pulled out from under him. He heard the horses’ high-pitched whinnies, and the driver screaming. Then the groaning sound of the stage falling over and crashing. He tried to hold on, reaching out wildly to grab on to something, but could find nothing and kept sliding down the slope.

He realized he was probably going to go over into the ravine, and wondered if he could survive fall. As he thought this, he saw the driver slide by and go over, and heard him yell, then sounds like his body crashing against rocks.

But he didn’t go over. By some miraculous happenstance, he stopped sliding. He tried to struggle back up to the road. That was when he discovered that his only danger didn’t come from the possibility of falling over into the ravine. Pain shot through his shoulder. He looked down and saw that he’d been deeply impaled by a large fragment of wood, probably a part of the stagecoach that had gone flying into the air when it had crashed.

It was bad, he could see. Blood poured out of the wound, the driving rain causing it to flow in rivulets down his body and on to the ground. He ripped at his vest to try and open it, but found he barely had the strength to do so. He could already feel the temperature of his body dropping. Even though no vital organ was involved, he knew it was easily a fatal wound if it wasn’t taken care of right away.

Damn, he thought. What a fool silly way to finally check out.

He lifted his head, trying to see what had happened to the Monahan woman and her boy. Had they stayed clear of the mud slide? Or were they on the bottom of the ravine with the driver?

He soon had his answer. He could hear them coming towards him. He felt lightheaded, and knew he was about to lose consciousness. The two figures before him were little more than blurs.

As if from very far away, he heard her say, "Robbie, go back up to the road. There might be another slide. And—don’t look. Keep your eyes on the woods."

She knelt by him and did a curious thing. Instead of looking at his wound and making some attempt to tend to it, she reached into his gun holster and took out his gun.

She stood up. Then she aimed the gun straight at his head and cocked it into firing position.

She meant to kill him, that was plain. He tried to say something, but found his voice wasn’t working. And there was nothing he could do. Shot in the head by a vengeful woman, he thought. If he could have, he would have laughed.

He waited, but no shot rang out. Her hand wavered and she slowly lowered the gun to her side. A few seconds later he felt her grab the collar of his coat and begin to drag him along the ground.

He heard her shout something to the boy, but couldn’t make sense of it. The pain was excruciating. He finally gave into it and passed out.

* * * * * * *

The struggle to get them both back up to the road seemed to take her forever. He was unconscious and a dead weight now. It terrified her that the slide could start again and sweep them both over the edge. What would happen to Robbie then?

Please God, please, she prayed. Help me survive this.

The fact that her skirts were soaked with mud and rain didn’t help the process. She let go of him briefly once and cried out when he started to slide away, but she caught him again, this time taking him from under his arms.

If he survived this journey up to the road, it would be a miracle.

After what seemed an eternity, she was back to where the wash-out started. She saw Robbie waiting for her, looking down from the top of the slope. She said, "Didn’t you go to the rest stop, like I told you?"

"Yes, ma’am. There’s no one there."

She closed her eyes and almost started crying.

"Found some rope in the cabin, just like you asked, Ma."

Thank heaven for that. Maybe God was finally listening to her. "Throw it down."

Unfortunately, it was an old piece of rope and didn’t seem very trustworthy for the job it had to do. Well, they had little choice. She tied it under his arms in as strong a knot as she could manage, then scrambled up the slope of the wash-out. She and Robbie pulled on the rope together, and after quite a little while, finally managed to drag Mosby to the top.

The driver had not been exaggerating when he said the rest stop was nearby, though dragging Mosby along the ground still took them a long time. Eliza thought her lungs would explode from the effort.

As they approached the little cabin, Robbie ran on ahead and opened the door. She finished dragging Mosby in, then left him on the floor.

"Ma, there’s a cot over there."

"I see it, Robbie. Take the blankets off it and cover him up, quick! I have to get a fire started first."

Robbie did as she said. She saw there was plenty of wood by the stove, and found matches and some wood shavings right away. She started up the fire. She spied a poker leaning up against the stove, and used it to stir the ashes, hoping the fire would catch quickly. There wasn’t a moment to lose.

She turned to Robbie and said, "Give me your pocket knife."

The boy obeyed. She knelt by Mosby and proceeded to use the knife to cut his clothes away from the wound. What she found made her gasp. It was even worse than she thought. She didn’t know how she could deal with it without killing him in the process.

It occurred to her that there was nothing to lose by trying. To leave him this way was pronouncing a death sentence.

She continued cutting away at his clothes until he was naked above the waist. Then she started ripping Mosby’s shirt to make bandages. She saw a bucket and told Robbie to take it and get water from the pump she had seen outside of the cabin.

"Stay outside. Stay, until I call you back in."

When he was gone, she went to the stove and began using the poker again. When the fire was going good, she held the end of the poker against the flames.

* * * * * * *

Robbie ran to the pump and began filling the bucket with water. Then he was stopped by the sound of the most unearthly scream he’d ever heard in his life, which was followed almost immediately by another.

He froze. It wasn’t his mother screaming, he knew. It must have been the man. He wanted to run back and see, but she had been so firm in her instructions that he stay outside until she called him. He continued filling the bucket, scared of what he was going to find when he got back.

She finally staggered out the door, looking sick the way she did right after Pa’s funeral. She beckoned to him, and he ran to her as fast as he could while carrying the bucket of water. He put the bucket down and threw his arms around her waist. She embraced him and kissed the top of his head.

"Everything’s all right," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "It’s all over."

He looked up at her. "Is he—?"

"Help me put him on the cot. Then bring the water in. I’m going to need it right away."

They went into the cabin and together they managed to lift him onto the cot. Robbie looked at him. His face was so white, so much like Sissy’s after Ma told him she’d gone to heaven. "Is he gonna die, Ma?"

"Probably. But not until we’ve done all we can for him."

"Why should we, Ma? Why? After what he did to Pa?"

"What he—how do you know about that?"

"I heard people talking about it in the town. They said Mr. Mosby hung Pa. Is it true? Did he?"

His mother didn’t answer him, just started pouring water from the bucket into a basin she’d found.

"Did he, Ma?"

She finally spoke. "It was that whole town that did it to your Pa. That whole town, not just him."

Robbie crossed his arms and said, "I don’t care. I think you should have let him die."

He didn’t even see the slap coming at him. The sting of pain across his face was a total shock. Then he felt his mother grip him by the shoulders and shake him. "Don’t say that, never say a thing like that again as long as you live!"

He felt tears welling up in his eyes but manfully blinked them back. "I don’t care," he whispered. "He killed Pa and I wish he was dead, too."

He braced himself for another slap. Instead, he felt his mother’s grip loosen on his shoulders. She drew him close to her and said, "Son, we have to be better than the people who hurt us. Or at least try. Do you understand what I’m saying?"

Robbie nodded, but her words did nothing to move him. Please God, he prayed, let Mr. Mosby die.

* * * * * * *

She knew the fever would start soon, so she instructed Robbie to strip down to his underthings, wrap himself in a blanket and stay by the fire, for the last thing she needed was for him to get sick, too. She did the same, but instead of staying by the fire she set out to assess the situation as far and food and other supplies were concerned. She was relieved to find a good supply of canned food, even a bag of flour. There was plenty of wood in the cabin, and going out back she found more and that most of it had been kept out of the rain so that it was dry.

She wondered how long it would be before people realized something had happened to the stage. They were due to arrive in Miles City the following evening. People on that end were probably expecting the stage to be late, considering the condition of the roads. A day more before they sent search parties? Two days? She didn’t know.

She made some food for herself and Robbie, though after having to perform that operation on Mosby, she scarcely had any appetite. She could still smell his flesh burning when she cauterized the wound after yanking out the splinter of wood. She’d been so afraid that she wouldn’t have the strength to get it all out on one try, and might have to dig around with the knife.

The thought of this made her feel faint, but she forced herself to eat a little. She didn’t want to end up sick again. Robbie was totally dependent on her, and she had to keep up her strength.

The other thing robbing her of her appetite was the vision of her handbag, which she’d dropped when she got knocked off her feet during the mudslide, taking a long, slow, unstoppable trip down the slope and over the side to the bottom of the ravine. Every dime she had in the world was in that bag.

Not only that, but all their luggage went over, too. It was as if everybody and everything she had was being swept away from her in punishment for some sin she couldn’t remember committing.

She couldn’t be bothered with these kinds of thoughts now. Besides, Robbie was still hale and hearty, and she meant to keep him that way.

When they were done, she went to the cot and put a hand on Mosby’s forehead. The fever was starting. She took one of the rags she’d made and dipped it into the basin of water, then mopped some of the sweat off his forehead. Then she set about fixing a place for Robbie to sleep. The cabin began to get dark. She lit a lamp and put it on a little table by the cot.

She sat on the cot and readied herself for what she knew would be a long and tortuous vigil. She dipped the rag in water again and began using it to cool down his feverish body.

After a few hours, the rain finally stopped. Late in the night, she heard a long, howling sound that seemed to come from only a few feet from outside the door.

Robbie sat up straight. "What’s that?"

She continued the process of trying to cool Mosby down with the damp rag. "A wolf, I expect."

"Will he come in here? Will he eat us?"

She found herself smiling in the darkness. "I won’t let him do that. Go back to sleep now."

The boy settled back on his blanket. She felt Mosby’s forehead. The fever was high now, and would probably get even worse before daybreak.

He had started the delirium, and was muttering about a lot of things she couldn’t quite make out. She just ignored them and went on with her task.

As she expected, the fever reached a peak as the sun came up. By then the delirium had really taken hold of him, and he was thrashing about in the bed. How he could in the pain he must have been feeling from his wound, she had no idea. She supposed being in that state was almost like being drugged. Several times, she had to struggle with him to keep him from trying to get out of bed.

It was when the chills came on him that she really began to get scared. She stoked up the fire as high as she dared, then piled the blankets and anything else she could find to help keep him warm.

She and Robbie stood by the cot, held hands and waited for what seemed to be the inevitable.

* * * * * * *

Call was curious to see Ike walk out of the sheriff’s office and come his way. Now what did he want, he wondered. Probably a way to wriggle out of one of his duties.

As Ike approached him he said, "Call, I just got a wire from Miles City."

"So?"

"Seems the stage never got there. Mr. Mosby never arrived."

"What’s that to me, Ike?"

Ike sat down on the bench beside him. "Well, I was thinkin’—someone should go and look to see if some misfortune befell the stage—held it up or the like."

"You’re right, Ike. Someone should." Call crossed his arms and settled back comfortably.

"Well, here’s the problem. I can’t leave right now, because Mr. Mosby, he said not to leave town until he got back."

"Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean even if duty called you away, Ike."

"But—"

"Why not just ask Mosby’s men to go lookin’ for him? Make them earn what he pays them."

"None of them’s as good a tracker as you, Call."

"Who needs a tracker? Just follow the stage route."

Ike seemed to give up. He rose and was about to walk away when he paused.

"It weren’t just Mosby on that stage. The Monahan woman and her boy, too. Just thought you’d like to know."

Ike headed back to the sheriff’s office. After the door closed behind him, Call stood up and headed for the livery.

* * * * * * *

"I don’t think I want you climbing up a tree, Robbie. You’ll probably fall and then I’ll have to set a broken bone on top of everything else."

"I ain’t gonna fall, Ma, and the damn thing’s near full of apples."

"What did I say to you about cursing, Robbie?"

"I’m sorry ma’am"

"And don’t say ain’t or gonna or near full. Say it isn’t any trouble and going to and it’s almost full of apples."

"But then I would sound like a dude! You don’t want me to sound like no dude, do you Ma?"

"Heaven forbid."

Mosby opened his eyes slowly, and became dreadfully aware of the pain in his shoulder, even worse now than before, if that were possible. He looked at it, saw the splinter of wood was gone and a neat bandage was in its place. His eyes finally focused and he could see Eliza Monahan and her son doing something at the table, possibly preparing some food, he couldn’t tell for sure.

"What difference does it make how I talk anyways, Ma?

"Anyway. No ‘s’ on the end. Because when we get back to Boston I don’t want people to say I have an ignoramus for a son."

"What’s a igno—ig—"

"I see we’re going to have to work on your vocabulary."

Mosby croaked out, "Mrs. Monahan."

The boy and his mother stiffened, then turned around. She stood up from the table and walked over to the cot. She touched his forehead, then said, "Fever’s all gone. Robbie, bring over the water."

The child brought it over, and she dipped a mug into it. Then she reached under his head and lifted it to help him drink. "You must be very thirsty. I tried to get you to take water while you had the fever, but I’m afraid you weren’t very cooperative."

He was very thirsty. He drank all the water, then more when she filled another mug. When he was done she let him lie back again.

Then she reached over to the little table by the cot and took something off of it. He recognized his whisky flask. She opened it and offered it to him.

Even in his current state he couldn’t help smiling a little. He could barely get his voice above a whisper. "I thought you were a temperance lady."

She said, "Except when one has to take it for medicinal purposes. You must be in a lot of pain. Go on and take some."

He did, gratefully. He began to feel a little more like himself.

"You must want to eat something. I’ll—"

He shook his head and closed his eyes. There were so many things he wanted to know, but he was too tired to ask.

"All right. I’ll leave you, then."

It was almost dark when he woke up again. This time when she offered, he took a little food. But he couldn’t help eyeing her warily. The last thing he’d seen before he passed out was that gun pointed at his head. And the dark, deadly looks being shot at him by the boy did little to make him feel safe in their company.

His scrutiny plainly made her uncomfortable. "What’s wrong, Mr. Mosby?"

He said nothing.

She said to the boy, "Go fill up the bucket with water again, Robbie. It’s almost dark."

When the boy left, Mosby asked, "How long have I been out?"

"Almost three days. Do you remember what happened?"

"Vividly." He looked her over to see any signs of nervousness, but detected none.

She offered him another spoonful of food, a gruel of oatmeal that she had somehow made almost tasty, but he shook his head. She said, "Well, we certainly were lucky to have this shelter so nearby, and plenty of food—"

He found his voice was stronger, so he asked, "Why did you change your mind?"

She shook her head, as if she didn’t understand.

He looked at her steadily. "Why didn’t you shoot me, like you wanted to?"

She blinked. "What?" She stood up quickly, almost dropping the bowl in her hands. She looked genuinely shocked and dismayed at his statement.

He said, "I remember, Mrs. Monahan. I remember you pointing my own gun right at my head."

"How could you think such a thing?" Her voice trembled with righteous indignation.

"Are you saying I imagined what happened?"

"No, but clearly you misunderstood it."

"You—"

"—I was going to put down one of the horses. It was near you on the ground and the poor animal—anyway, I realized at the last minute that the gunshot would cause another landslide."

"Oh, I see." He looked away from her, as if dismissing the whole thing. "Well, if you say so."

She was incredulous. "You don’t believe me."

"I wouldn’t dream of contradicting a lady such as yourself."

Her eyes flashed with anger. "Mr. Mosby, if I’d wanted you dead, I certainly wouldn’t have had to blow your brains out right in front of my son. I could have just left you there. Or pushed you into the ravine."

"Ah. So it did cross your mind."

"You—you go to hell!"

"Now, now, Mrs. Monahan. You don’t want to set a bad example for your son by cussin’, do you?"

That made her absolutely speechless. While she stared at him he spied the whisky flask on the little table and reached for it. Before he could take it, her hand shot out and the flask disappeared into her pocket.

She headed for the door, but before she left the room she turned to him and said, "I’ll tell you something, Mr. Mosby, if it had been up to my boy, we would have left you to die." Tears welled up in her eyes. "But I can’t be like you nor do I want my son to be like you. Putting you in your grave wouldn’t make his father any less dead."

She went out the door and slammed it behind her.

He heard her shouting at her son to hurry. A few minutes later, they both came back into the cabin. She did not speak to him or look at him while clearing up the dishes from their supper.

It was a small cabin and she couldn’t have stayed clear of him if she wanted to. As she passed the cot, he reached up and touched her arm. She pulled it away, still not looking at him.

"Mrs. Monahan, I apologize. You have to realize—I’m not myself."

She finally turned to face him. "Oh, I think you are very much yourself."

He tried to sit up, wincing from the effort. "I don’t suppose I have any right to hope you’ll forgive my unconscionable behavior. My only excuse is that it’s been a long time since I’ve been around someone like you."

She just looked at him, not understanding.

He said, "Somethin’ very rare in these parts. A good woman."

She looked slightly bemused. She said, "You say that almost as if it were an insult."

"Anything but. And if you’re as good a woman as I think you are, you’ll have mercy on me and give me another drink of the whisky."

She actually smiled a little. "I see what this apology is all about. You’re just afraid I’ll keep the whisky away from you."

"Very."

She reached into the pocket of her dress and drew out the flask.

* * * * * * *

Call couldn’t help being awestruck when he got the wash-out. The devastation was plain. He found the rotting corpses of two of the horses, and the stage looked as though someone had blown it apart with explosives.

Could anyone have survived this?

He walked the Hell Bitch through the wash-out and left her on the part of the road that remained intact. The rain had let up two days before, but the ground still felt suspect. He went to the edge of the road and looked into the ravine.

He saw a great deal of debris, and thought he could see a human body beside the rushing waters of the swollen river. He couldn’t tell from there who it was or if indeed it was a body at all. He did see several of the dead horses down there, though.

He didn’t bother to mount the Hell Bitch again, knowing the rest stop was close. As a precaution, he took out his sawed-off.

When he got to the cabin, he was relieved to see the boy standing by the water pump. At least he was all right.

The boy saw him and dropped the bucket he had in his hand. Then he ran into the cabin.

Call couldn’t help feeling a knot in his stomach from the boy’s reaction. He supposed he couldn’t blame him. Especially since he was holding the sawed-off in his hand. He put it back in its holder.

Eliza Monahan opened the door and stepped out. She looked as if she’d been through a war.

"Well, Mr. Call," she said. "I never thought I’d live to say this, but I am very glad to see you."

* * * * * * *

"Mr. Mosby, you have no business being alive."

Cleese was examining the wound and poking it much more than necessary, Mosby was sure. He kept cursing under his breath with every poke.

He finally shouted, "Watch it!"

They were back in his room at the Ambrosia. He barely remembered the journey to Curtis Wells. Somewhere, Call had found a wagon. He must have passed out again, because he had no idea what happened to Eliza Monahan and the boy after they got back to town. He asked Cleese, who merely shrugged.

Cleese said, "You know, she really did a very good job. I couldn’t have done better."

There was an open bottle of whisky on the table beside his bed. Mosby grabbed it and took a long swallow.

Cleese set about making up a sling for his arm, explaining that it would help with some of the discomfort, and also recommended a salve to help the burn.

"Never mind about that now, Cleese. Get Zeke—no, not him. One of my other men and tell him to find Mrs. Monahan. I want to speak to her."

"Mr. Mosby, I really should attend to this first."

Mosby glared at Cleese, who needed no further persuasion to put down the bandages he was unrolling and leave.

* * * * * * *

Eliza slipped her wedding ring off her finger. She put it on the counter in front of the storekeeper.

"What could you give me for this?"

The storekeeper looked her over, obviously wondering about her disheveled state and that of the boy. But he said nothing and picked up the ring.

"Three dollar."

"Is that all?"

"Ain’t worth more."

She nodded. The man took three dollar bills out of the cash register and handed them to her. She looked at them, then folded them up in her hand and began to shepherd Robbie out of the store.

When they got outside, Robbie said, "Is that all we got, Ma? What are we going to do?"

She hated it when he asked questions she couldn’t answer. Hopelessness washed over her. What was going to become of them now? Three days before she didn’t think they could have been worse off than they were, but fate had to show her that it was indeed possible.

A sudden idea took hold of her. Well, there was nothing to be lost by trying.

* * * * * * *

Call stood at the bar of the 10 and watched Austin talking to Amanda. Austin kept laughing, almost giggling, as he knocked back whisky after whisky.

"Too bad the son of a bitch didn’t fall into that ravine after all, eh, Amanda?"

She picked up a glass and began to wipe it with a towel. "Oh, that wouldn’t be gratifyin’ at all, Austin. Truth be told, I would have found it downright disappointin’."

Call sipped his whisky. Austin sauntered over to him, and gave him a thunderous clap on the back. "Bet you’re sorry you found him still breathin’, weren’t you, buddy?"

Call shrugged him off. "Shut the hell up, Austin."

Someone entered the tent. They all looked up and saw Eliza and her boy walking into the bar.

Amanda exclaimed, "Why, honey!"

The woman looked around her at the collection of less than reputable types well on their way to a state of unconsciousness. Then she seemed to brace herself and approached the bar.

Amanda put the glass down and came from behind the bar. "You poor things. You look like hell."

Eliza merely nodded. Then she said, "I wonder if I could impose on you one more time. I—"

Just then one of the patrons tottered up to the bar and threw his arm around her, causing her to gasp. He said in a thick voice, "Hey, sweetheart! What’s your name?"

Amanda glared at the drunk and said, "Take a hike!"

The venom darting from her eyes would have been enough to get the little vermin to crawl away, but Call made sure by grabbing him and pushing him roughly out the door.

Once Eliza was relieved of the drunk’s company, Amanda said, "Now, how can I help you, honey?"

"You see," Eliza continued, still shaken. "I lost everything in the accident, just everything, and—"

"Say no more, I understand. You need a hand, and I’d be pleased to oblige."

"It’ll only be for a few days, I assure you. I’ve already wired my sister, and I’m certain in no time at all the money for the trip home will be here."

"It’s no problem at all. Let’s go get the two of you cleaned up."

They were about to leave when one of Mosby’s men walked into the bar. He said to Eliza, "You Mrs. Monahan?"

She nodded.

"Mr. Mosby wants you over at the Ambrosia. Right now." He barked this out like an order.

Eliza shook her head vigorously.

The man looked at her, disbelieving. "But Mosby says—"

Amanda cut in. "Can’t you see she doesn’t give a roaring rat’s ass for what Mosby says?"

Eliza’s eyes widened. Amanda smiled and said, "Sorry, honey. But that’s the only kind of talk his kind understands." She turned to Mosby’s man. "Now get lost. Tell Mosby there’s still some who don’t jump every time he gives an order."

Mosby’s man backed out of the 10 reluctantly.

* * * * * * *

Mosby was well enough in a couple of days to seek out Eliza Monahan himself. He was furious when his man reported to him what had happened at the No. 10. Apparently, Amanda’s plan of action was to irritate him to death, and she was doing a damn good job of it.

He found her on the edge of tent-town, burning some refuse. He felt a pang when he saw her. She wore an ill-fitting skirt and blouse, obviously borrowed. She was too fine a lady to be engaged in such activity, and he decided it had to stop once and for all.

She caught sight of him, and brushed a lock of hair that had fallen over her face away, then wiped her hands on her apron. "Mr. Mosby. How are you feeling?"

He removed his hat. "Much better, thanks to you."

She smiled and turned as if she meant to resume her task.

"Mrs. Monahan—"

"What is it, Mr. Mosby? I am very busy, as you can see."

"I found out that you sold your wedding ring, and I thought, that is, I wanted to return it to you." He reached into his pocket and extracted her wedding ring, then held it out to her.

She just stared at it. Then she said, "I’m afraid I can’t afford to buy it back at the moment."

"Nonsense. Take it. You—"

"No, I really can’t. But I thank you for the thought."

He put the ring back in his pocket. "Well, I’ll hold on to it for you. If you want it back, just let me know."

"Thank you. I will want it back, as soon as I hear from my sister."

"Is that right?"

"Yes. She’ll be wiring me some money any day now. Then I can buy it back and be on my way home again."

"Well, that’s good news. But I was thinkin’, in the meantime, wouldn’t you much rather stay at the Dove than—"

"This is perfectly all right."

"It can’t be. And is it true you’re workin’ over at the No. 10?"

"I’m just helping Amanda out a little, as a way to thank her for taking me in."

"That can’t really sit well with a temperance lady like yourself."

That got her back up a little. She said, "Will you stop saying it like that—you make it sound as if I’m the one suffering from deviant behavior."

He couldn’t help smiling. "I only meant that you can’t be happy about your son bein’ exposed to that kind of environment."

She looked down at the ground. "It’s only for a few days—just temporary."

He could see she was not going to be persuaded. "Well, I’ll leave you now. But if you find your stay in Curtis Wells is more extensive than you plan, I can help you out. Don’t hesitate to come and see me."

She just nodded, so he left her.

* * * * * * *

Every day Eliza went to the telegraph office at least twice, and every day was the same—no wire from her sister. She couldn’t imagine what had happened to Mavis, and why the delay. She supposed that she and her family could be away visiting, but Mavis was rather indolent, and hated turning her household upside down unless it was a holiday or summer.

She was beginning to despair again. Mr. Mosby was right about one thing—she didn’t want Robbie to be subjected to the atmosphere in tent-town anymore, and she certainly didn’t enjoy being around the drunkards and other lowlife characters who hung about the area.

Another problem that quickly developed was a strong perception that Amanda, who’d been so friendly and helpful at first, was now resentful of her presence. Worse, she seemed to dislike Robbie intensely, even making remarks every now and again about how much the boy ate.

She headed for the telegraph office, praying that the wire with her money was there, finally, and she could put this nightmare behind her at last.

The fellow behind the counter hardly let her in the door before he said, "Mrs. Monahan. Got something for you today."

Her heart leapt with joy. "My wire?"

"Not a wire, ma’am. A letter."

"A letter?" She took the letter the man held out to her, and sure enough, it was addressed to her in Mavis’ neat, round handwriting.

She thanked him and went outside, finding a bench to sit on. She was badly crossed-up. Why a letter and not a wire? Well, perhaps it meant nothing. Mavis always was a bit of a featherbrain.

Her hand trembled as she tore open the letter. Something fluttered out. Money!

She picked the bill up off her lap. Her heart sank. It was only a ten dollar bill. She felt all the heat leaving her body, suddenly cognizant of what the letter was going to say. She began to read.

Dearest Eliza,

My poor dear sister, I was broken-hearted to receive your sad news. I extend my sincerest condolences on the loss of your husband and daughter. How I long to be with you in your hour of need!

Naturally, there is nothing in this world I would wish more than to help you come home, for this is where you belong. Dear Eliza, what can I say? Father and Mother, when they heard the news, were adamant in their refusal to receive you in their home. I’m afraid neither the passage of time nor the fact that your husband has passed on has softened their position concerning this matter.

I consulted with John, to see if you and your son would be welcome in our home. My dear, he feels as Father and Mother do, that you cut the ties to your family permanently when you married Mr. Monahan. This point of view is also held by Beatrice and her husband.

My own personal opinion is that you made a mistake in judgment due to youth and inexperience and it is time for us to forgive and forget, but as far as the rest of the family is concerned, I most definitely hold the minority view.

John says the obvious answer to your dilemma is to marry again. He told me out on the frontier decent women are rarer than pearls. I must say, this does seem a sensible solution. If you are even half as pretty now as you were when you left home, you should have no trouble at all finding another husband.

The ten dollars enclosed is all I can spare from the household money at the moment—you know how tight John has always been—but whenever I can, I will send you more.

Know that you are always in my thoughts and prayers.

Your Sister

Mavis

When she finished reading all she could do was sit there as if completely paralyzed, while the meaning of the letter finally sunk in. She was stuck in this little hell-hole of a town, for how long she couldn’t possibly guess.

* * * * * * *

Mosby heard a knock on his office door. Expecting it to be Cleese, he told whoever it was to come in.

He looked up and was pleased to see Eliza Monahan walking into the room. She said, "Is this a bad time?"

He stood up. "No, not at all, Mrs. Monahan, do come in."

She did as he said and sat down in the same chair she had occupied the day of the trial. He could tell from the look on her face that the same thought was passing through her mind. He waited for her to begin.

She sat with her hands neatly folded in her lap. "It—it seems that my trip home will be delayed for a bit."

"Oh? Well, I’m sorry to hear it."

"I wondered—I wondered exactly what you meant when you said you could help me out."

He smiled. "How would you like to come and work for me?"

"Work for you? Doing what?" She looked at him suspiciously. He almost laughed. She obviously expected some sort of indecent proposition.

"Managing the Lonesome Dove. I own it, you know."

She looked surprised. "Why, I don’t know anything about—"

"Let me explain why I thought to ask you. Well, you’ve seen the old place. Frankly, it’s lost some of its tone. It needs a woman’s touch. The last two proprietors were women, in fact."

"Oh, I see."

"Of course room and board would be part of your wages. You’d have a decent place for you and your boy to live and—"

"How much—"

"Twenty dollars a month."

She needed no more persuasion. She nodded. "I accept, then."

"That’s splendid. Why don’t I give you a month’s advance? You must need a lot of things for you and the boy. You can move into the Dove whenever you like."

She nodded and took the twenty dollars he held out to her. "Thank you, Mr. Mosby. I hope I won’t disappoint you."

"I doubt you could. I’ve already seen how well you can weather a crisis."

She blushed a little, then stood up. He saw her to the door. Before she left, he reached into his pocket and took out her wedding ring again. "Will you take it now?"

"Yes. If you take the three dollars I got for it."

He did, and she slipped the ring back on her finger.

* * * * * * *

"You’re goin’ to what!"

Amanda watched Eliza gathering up the few little things she had to take with her. The boy helped his mother.

"I told you. Robbie and I are moving into the hotel. Mr. Mosby has hired me to manage it for him."

Amanda stood there with her hands on her hips. "You must be plum out of your mind."

"Probably. But I can’t keep imposing on your hospitality."

"But, but—look, honey, I’ve got to be real straight with you. That man is the worst sidewinder that ever slithered his way into this town or any other—why, I wouldn’t trust that son of a bitch farther—"

"Would you mind watching your language in front of my son?"

Amanda just stood there for a moment with her mouth open. Then she continued her denunciation of Mosby. It went on for some little while, ending with, "Listen, you just ain’t capable of dealin’ with a snake like that. I could tell you stories that would make your hair stand on end."

All she said in answer was, "Thank you for all your kindness." Then she and the boy left.

Austin came wandering into the tent. Amanda stood there fuming. "Why, that ungrateful little bitch! Did you hear that? He’s putting her in my place over at the Dove! I’m going to kill that bastard one of these days!"

He took his gun out of his holster and said, "It’s cleaned and ready to go. Just say the word."

She picked up a pillow off her bed and threw it at him.

* * * * * * *

A few days later Call walked by the Dove and saw Eliza Monahan in front, leaning against a post and gazing out at the street with such a pensive look on her face that he stopped and looked, too.

Everything seemed exactly the same to him, he couldn’t imagine what she was staring at. A soft spring snow was falling, that was all.

He was startled to hear her speak to him. "Doesn’t even the snow look sad?"

He looked at the snow coming down. "I reckon."

She turned around and looked at him. "You know something, Mr. Call? I had a dream last night that I was crossing this very street and the mud just opened up and swallowed me whole."

"Sounds like you don’t have much use for this town."

"Oh, I have nothing against it. That is, nothing kerosene and a match couldn’t cure."

He raised his eyebrows. "That’s a harsh statement."

"This is a harsh place."

"I guess that’s not surprisin’—you feeling that way and all."

"No, it’s not surprising."

Call was about to move on, but he couldn’t help saying something more. "Mrs. Monahan—you shouldn’t be working for Mosby. It’s a mistake."

She smiled sourly. "I have already received the warning, Mr. Call, but thank you for your concern."

He leaned closer to her and said emphatically, "I mean it. You—"

"Mr. Call, what else do you propose I do? This way, I have a decent place to live, food for my boy, a better wage than most women around here could earn. Ah, except for Twyla’s girls, of course." She looked down the street at Twyla’s. "Did you know I have a standing invitation to work over there? Oh, yes. Was told I’d be quite an attraction. Could earn the money to get back east in no time over there. But I don’t think I will. I’d like to keep my son’s respect.

"Of course, I could always take my sister’s advice. She recommends remarriage." She laughed and looked sideways at Call. "Would you marry me, Mr. Call? Save me from the clutches of Mr. Mosby? Take on the responsibility of me and my boy?"

He was so caught off guard that he couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.

"Of course you wouldn’t. So I think you should keep your opinions to yourself from now on."

"Yes, ma’am. I reckon I will."

She turned and went back into the Dove. Call looked across the street at the Ambrosia. He saw Mosby had been watching them from the balcony, puffing on his cigar.

THE END

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